1-7 February 2013 #641

The Paperboy

A troubling but haunting film about race, class, gender, and homosexuality, directed by Lee Daniel
Sophia Pande
Lee Daniels is one of the few black directors working in Hollywood today. Critically acclaimed for Precious (2009) a film about a young black girl who fights her way through her abused childhood, with The Paperboy Daniels has produced and directed yet another troubling, but haunting film about race, class, gender, and homosexuality, all of which are encapsulated in a gripping film noir set in a small town in Florida, aptly named Lately.

The film revolves around a central murder mystery involving the killing of the town’s reviled Sheriff, a cruel white man who is hated by both his own and the black community for his atrocities and indiscriminate killing. A man called Hillary Van Wetter (played by John Cusack in an astonishingly sociopathic turn) is convicted of the crime and put on death row.

Enter the titular paperboy Jack Jensen (he delivers the town newspapers that his father publishes), played surprisingly well by an otherwise almost too good-looking Zac Efron. Jack is back at home after being kicked out of college for emptying the campus pool one night in a drunken prank. An avid swimmer with a wounded heart, Jack’s one solace is his mother’s wedding ring, which she left behind when she abandoned her two sons and husband.

It is when Jack’s brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey) comes back from Miami with a fellow reporter in tow to re-investigate the Van Wetter arrest that things start to go awry.

The trio is aided by the slightly crazed Charlotte Bless (played by an avidly vampy Nicole Kidman), a woman who occupies her time by writing erotic love letters to inmates on death row. Claiming that she and Van Wetter are in love and want to get married, Charlotte provides the journalists the crucial ‘in’ with Van Wetter.

As relationships start to develop and evolve, Jack falls in love with the disturbed but still vulnerable and undeniably gorgeous Charlotte. Over the course of their developing friendship and the ongoing investigation, several incidents occur that expose the vulnerable and ugly underbelly of rural 1960s Florida.

The story, vividly told through the voice of Anita (played by the singer Macy Gray), the black housekeeper for the Jensen family, is permeated with an atmosphere of archetypal evil lurking just outside of the frame, finally manifesting itself towards the end of the film in a finale that sears itself into the brain.

Films like these are little gems that often do not have the backing of huge studios that push on their behalf during awards season. Regardless, Nicole Kidman has been nominated for ‘Best Supporting Actress’ for her unforgettable portrayal of a woman who just cannot help herself but is completely unapologetic about it.

I will warn you that The Paperboy may not be to your taste. It is often over the top and very violent, but this is Lee Daniel’s style. It is this very style backed by intelligence, undeniable directorial skill, and an intimate knowledge of his deeply flawed but very human characters that make for such a compelling film. Watch it, you’ll get to the end, and watch it all over again for the nuances you missed.

The Paperboy trailer, film directed by Lee Daniel